Published: Tue, July 30, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

An MIT Satellite Named TESS Just Discovered Three New Worlds

An MIT Satellite Named TESS Just Discovered Three New Worlds

TOI-270's relative proximity to Earth make future planet hunts, and planet-characterisation work, in the system feasible.

Two of the newly-found planets are of a gaseous type not found in our own solar system, roughly twice Earth's size, and one is rocky and slightly larger than Earth - and in the habitable zone, meaning that it is warm enough to allow for liquid oceans.

A red dwarf, or "M dwarf" in astronomical terms, is "the smallest, most abundant and longest-lived type of star in our galaxy", according to NASA. Observation of star and planetary formation can help scientists understand a little more about how our own solar system formed. "It will be observable by Webb for over half a year, which could allow for really interesting comparison studies between the atmospheres of TOI 270 c and d". "It is uncommon for planets to have sizes between 1.5 and two times that of Earth for reasons likely related to the way planets form, but this is still a highly controversial topic". Scientists think that this discovery is very unusual, yet fascinating, being the second nearest transiting exoplanet system discovered recently, and the most nearest one known for which the main is a "M dwarf". One explanation to account for the anomaly, is that the planet's atmosphere has been evaporated away after being bombarded by high energy radiation from its host star; a process that ultimately leads to the planet losing mass.

"For TOI-270, these planets line up like pearls on a string", Günther says.

TESS Object of Interest (TOI) 270 is a faint, cool star more commonly identified by its catalog name: UCAC4 191-004642. The researchers eventually found evidence of three planets, which orbit the star every 3.4, 5.7 and 11.4 Earth days, respectively.

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The newly discovered star system has something ours doesn't: Its two sub-Neptunes are "intermediate" planets, with a size and composition somewhere between that of Earth and Neptune.

Astronomers using a telescope TESS has discovered an exoplanet with three suns. The study has been submitted to the Astronomical Journal and is available on arXiv. "But whether a planet exists within this zone, and whether it is habitable, depends on a host of other parameters, such as its size, mass, and atmospheric conditions".

While LTT 1445Ab won't be a welcoming home for us anytime soon, it's still an exciting planet for astronomers because it might have an atmosphere. During its first year, TESS has discovered 21 planets outside of our solar system.

The planet closest to the star is about 25% bigger than Earth and is likely rocky. As these are planet candidates they have yet to be confirmed as real, but the authors are confident that based on data from the multi-planet systems, most if not all of the candidates will be actual exoplanets once follow up investigations are complete. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, NASA's Ames Research Center, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

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